Written by: Jen Barker, Published: 19 September 2019
When they were just seven years old, Isabella and Sophia Strahan graced the cover of People Magazine for the first time, and their new-found notoriety prompted questions from curious strangers, including an airline flight attendant.
“The flight attendant had seen the issue in the back on someone else’s seat, and recognized the girls,” their mother Jean Strahan recalls. “She started talking to them and eventually asked them where they lived and they said Beverly Hills, New York City and North Dakota. Then she asked which was their favorite home and I got a little nervous!” Jean adds with a laugh. But Isabella and Sophia’s simultaneous answer was music to Jean’s ears; North Dakota, Jean’s home state, was their favorite.
Jean grew up in Carson North Dakota, a quiet community where most of its members are as close as family. After 26 years in Carson, Jean moved to New York City, where she ran a boutique on Madison Avenue and eventually met and married the twins’ father Michael Strahan, former NFL Player and current television personality. Although she enjoyed her time living in the city, Jean has a deep appreciation for her simpler upbringing, so she purchased a farm retreat in Wilmington North Carolina shortly after Isabella and Sophia were born.
After she and Michael divorced, Jean eventually moved to the property in Wilmington full time and set her mind to transforming the simple, 200-year-old Sycamore Bend Plantation into a version of her Mid-Western home. “I was trying to create a childhood like I had, outdoors, but with more of the things I would have liked,” Jean says.
The resulting property is paradise for the fifteen-year-old twins. Sycamore Bend Plantation now features a beach volley ball court, a clay tennis court, and a riding ring, all with LED lighting and a sound system as well as a half basketball court complete with pink out of bounds lines. But the heart of the property remains the renovated five stall barn.
“The house is 200 years old and still needs a lot of work, but when we moved here, the thing we focused on was making the barn magical,” Jean says. “We made it a comfortable place to spend our time and enjoy our horses. Whenever we throw parties, they always happen at the barn.”
The barn is also a place for hard work though–under the guidance of trainer Lynley Reilly, Isabella and Sophia have transformed from barrel racers and pole benders to successful hunter and equitation riders. Both girls have taken home blue ribbons from some of the most prestigious horse shows on the East Coast.
Just blocks from the ocean and minutes from the city of Wilmington, Sycamore plantation offers the Strahan family a perfect balance between space and convenience, quiet and social, new and old. Part of striking that balance means the twins spend little time watching television and using their electronic devices.
“We got a tv about three years ago, and the deal was if they had a good week homeschooling we’d watch a movie at the end of the week. But we’re always at horse shows, so I think we’ve watched about five movies since we’ve lived here,” Jean says. “Once my kids have the opportunity to partake in an activity, they become so engaged, they don’t ask to watch tv anymore.”
Keeping up Sycamore Bend Plantation and overseeing the ongoing projects keep Jean busy when she’s not homeschooling her daughters or supporting them in the many activities and sports the property affords.
“In my free time, I do exactly what I choose to do and that’s watch my kids play volleyball, basketball and ride their horses,” Jean says. “My greatest gift is being able to be a mom to my kids full time. I had a big career until I was 40 and now this is my job. Its full on for me.”
Photos and Story By Jennifer Barker
Additional photos courtesy of Jean Strahan